I was in my early teens when I first heard this parable magnificently told by Rabbi Josh (Yehoshua Binyamin) Gordon (now of blessed memory), a dynamic Chabad Shliach in California who is widely known today for his many audio classes on Chabad.org. Rabbi Gordon then joked that “Grimm’s 50 Fairy-Tales took this from the Medrash.” I heard him tell this farmer-princess parable via cassette tape recording that was passed around, and it was so well articulated, so richly expressed – I remember many of his expressions to this day, 30+ years later.
Once there was a king who had a daughter, she was single and dating. Potential suitors, princes all, came to see her from all over, but she was fussy and picky and refused each of them for a different reason. This one was too tall, the other was too short, this one didn’t appreciate music, another didn’t like fine arts. So she stayed single but her father was itching for some Nachas. One day he had enough. He banged on the castle table and decreed: The next bachelor that knocks on the palace door is your husband!
Sure enough that night was a dark and stormy night and a farmer struggling to get home in the rain saw a light in the distance and knocked for some refuge. The king opened the door, welcomed him in and said, “Mazal Tov! You are married to my daughter!” True to his word, the house chaplain married them off and after some time enjoying the luxury of the palace, the farmer was itching to get back to his fields and farm. So off they went.
He worked all day out in the fields while she minded the farm-house. One day he came home and saw her sitting on the porch in a rocking chair, and she looked sad. So he thought of doing something special for her. The next day he came home from the fields with a bucket of his prize potatoes. Not just any old potatoes, but his best: firm, easy to peel, no eyes, no rot, not too big, not too small. He put them in a basket and brought them home to her. She took one look at him and the basket and burst out in tears.
He was taken aback, but thought about it. Potatoes are starchy, they’re not a treat. Besides, they’re not edible raw and she’d have to cook them first. So the next day he went out and collected the nicest cucumbers he had. Kirby’s, the pickling cukes. The ones with just enough snap, they have a little bite but also refreshingly juicy inside. He made sure to choose the prettiest ones, good shape, nice texture. He put them in a nice little basket and brought them home to his princess wife in the hope of cheering her up. But no dice. She saw it and cried and cried.
He was trying, and he didn’t want to give up. He wanted her to be happy and wanted to give her his best. He thought of tomatoes. Maybe cherry tomatoes, the kind that pop in your mouth and explode with flavor. Farm-freshed, sun-kissed, fresh-picked and ripe. But that didn’t work either. She looked at the basket and just cried into her lap.
So he sat next to hear and asked, “What is it my love? What can I do to make you happy? I’ve brought you my best, the labor of my hands, the choice of my crops, my finest potatoes, cukes and tomatoes!?”
She told him it wasn’t his fault, she appreciated his efforts, but that he just simply couldn’t understand it. He had no idea where she was coming from and what she was missing. She was yearning for the palace, for its wealth of culture, the fine dining, the interesting guests, the policy discussions, the exhibits of art and the finest music. His vegetables were great, but they weren’t cutting it for her.
What happened to their marriage? No idea, it’s just a parable.
But here’s the message for us: We are BOTH princess and farmer, in one and the same person. We are comprised of body (farmer) and soul (princess). Often in life we feel empty, yearning for something, a craving. So the body goes out for ice-cream, watches a movie, goes on a vacation or buys a new car. But the craving persists. The hunger is still there. The emptiness doesn’t go away. That’s because we have a princess inside, and she’s looking for more. She’s yearning for something so much deeper, loftier, more meaningful. It’s really hard for the farmer side of us to get that, but that inner need, that inner yearning is there inside of us.
This is the Baal Shem Tov’s deep psychological explanation of the Psalms 107:5 verse: רעבים גם־צמאים נפשם בהם תתעטף that often our hunger & thirst and empty feelings, cravings or yearnings can reflect a deeper inner subconscious soulful striving that we may be totally unbeknownst to us & oblivious to. And imagine the power of tuning into that, seeking and finding that inner yearning beneath and within that external craving… how powerful and transformational that can be.